Today, a guest post on sustainable modular classrooms from Kathy Werder, a freelance architect by profession and a researcher by nature. According to Kathy, most of her research papers focus on promoting integration that leads to sustainable and lean design and construction practices. Kathy is obsessed with the latest rage in the construction industry – modular building solutions. She is also an avid writer, and loves blogging about green buildings and portable construction units. Welcome, Kathy!
According to Wikipedia, a sustainable building refers to “ a structure and using process that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from sitting, to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.”
So if we accept this definition to be true, in order to make an actual sustainable building we have to consider the entire process of building right from the blueprint stage all the way to demolition, and ensure that at every step of the way there is minimal or no negative impact on the environment, especially in terms of resource efficiency.
School buildings require a lot of energy to function. However, there are a great many things that can be easily done to make a sustainable school building. Of course, you would have to opt for modular buildings for schools since they are known to be constructed in a resource and energy efficient way. [Editor’s note: I’m not sure that sustainability would *require* the use of a modular building, but they do have known, quantifiable built-in sustainable features.]
Whether you get your building from a vendor or directly from a manufacturer, here are a few things you can do to your modular classroom buildings in order to make them more sustainable.
The first and most obvious step is to make sure your modular school building is built out of recyclable materials as far as possible. This would include recycled steel, wood and glass as well as recyclable pipelines, window frames, etc.
Approximately 10-20% more lumber is used to construct mobile buildings than in convention construction (to add structural integrity); therefore, using recycled wood can pay dividends.
Recycled steel is robust, not combustible, and mold-resistant, and it is useful for framing.
Carpet tiles made of 100% recyclable materials can be used by most builders. For instance, Mobile Modular Management Corporation uses glueless, 100% recycled carpet tiles that do not release volatile organic compounds (VOC).
There are cost advantages to using recyclable materials and in many cases, there is an associated lowering of installation labor costs.
Indoor Air Quality
Before installing a central air system, first see if it is possible to maximize on natural ventilation by designing classrooms in the style of atriums or by installing large, strategically placed windows that allow for sufficient cross ventilation.
Should you choose to install a central air system anyway, bear in mind that HVAC systems are the main energy consumers in any type of building, especially in schools. New, energy efficient 2-stage HVAC systems should be used that require less energy to function and consume significantly less electricity. They also use refrigerants that do not harm the ozone layer.
In addition to this, some modular construction companies use radiant heat barrier and increase the R-value of all insulation to reduce HVAC load and maintenance costs.
Geo Exchange Systems
Geo exchange systems make use of the energy (or temperature) stored in the earth to perform a large number of functions. It can heat and cool an entire school building, it can provide refrigeration and it can also be used to heat water. If there it is possible to install a geo exchange system, it is the next best solution to natural ventilation.
Most schools function during the day and so essentially there should be no need to use much artificial lighting. Modular or portable classrooms can be constructed specifically to maximize natural daylight. Large windows with energy efficient glass will ensure that there is plenty of daylight coming into the room while still being able to retain a comfortable temperature that is not affected by external conditions. Sun tunnels can be used to maximize natural lighting as well.
Solar power is the most incredible gift that we have in terms of an energy resource today. Furthermore, with the advanced technology that we have at our disposal today, there are numerous ways in which we can harness solar energy:
- Solar powered water heating is perhaps the most common way in which solar energy is used.
- Solar powered light bulbs are another great invention that should definitely be used
- Solar plugs are also another incredible invention that a school should definitely take advantage of. Instead of using electricity to power laptops and computers, solar plugs can be used wherever possible.
Maximizing good room acoustics is another way to save electricity, especially in auditoriums. Since you have the luxury of having your school built to your exact specifications, it would be fairly easy to ensure that your auditorium has good acoustics, wherein you will very rarely require microphones.
As with any other building, school buildings need regular maintenance, and this is especially true if they are modular. All the various energy efficient systems that have been put in place need to be checked and serviced regularly in order to ensure smooth functioning and optimal efficiency. Neglecting to maintain the systems regularly will render all your initial efforts futile and will in fact begin to prove counterproductive.
Thanks Kathy for your article. Now it is your turn. Have you designed for a green or LEED school facility? Considered modular construction as part of your design? Share your thoughts below.